ROY -- Virtual school became a reality when 30 students who are enrolled at the public online high school Utah Connections Academy attended the school's first prom, held at the Utah State Capital in April.
Many of the students didn't even know one another, but by the end of the night, they had become fast friends. Because the school consists of online classes, students don't interact with one another the way they do at a traditional high school.
They get to visit with one another during their weekly live lessons using microphones hooked to their computers, or if it is a smaller group, the students will use their webcams to see one another. The school also holds monthly field trips, giving the students opportunities to meet face to face.
When the school first opened two years ago, the administration decided to host a prom for the students at the end of this school year. Utah Connections Academy partnered with two other online schools, garnering nearly 200 "virtual" students at the prom.
"It's really important that they still have a chance to socialize face to face, so we wanted to make prom a priority this year and still get the full high school experience, regardless of what kind of school they go to," said prom organizer Jackie Hayes, Secondary English and Advisory teacher at Utah Connections Academy.
It was a typical prom in the rotunda of the state capital with music, dancing, food, and even prom royalty -- all done through virtual voting, of course. Sixteen-year-old Madison McLeod, of Roy, had no idea what the night would have in store for her.
Worried that she might not enjoy herself, she almost didn't attend. It's a good thing she did, because while there, she ended up being crowned the prom queen after receiving the most votes from her classmates.
"I had never met some of the students from my school, so I thought I would be really bored, but we had so much fun making friends with people we hadn't connected with yet," McLeod said. "It was important because a lot of kids in online school are out of the loop, so this was a really good opportunity for us."
Seventeen-year-old Madilyn Holmes, of Roy, was worried about switching over to Utah Connections Academy from a private school because she knew she was going to miss the school dances.
"I didn't want my only prom to be in ninth grade, so I was really excited to go to this one as a junior," said Holmes.
Attending an online school certainly has its perks, Holmes said. She enjoys the flexible hours and being able to manage her time better, but there are difficulties as well.
"It's a lot different going to a public school, because you know everyone, and here you don't know anyone, which is kind of intimidating," said Holmes. She had attended prom with her boyfriend the week before hers, and there were some big differences.
"At his prom, we were with his friends, and it was a more socializing thing, whereas at mine, it was more of a stretch, getting out of your comfort zone to get to know people," she said.
According to Hayes, online school participation has become more popular in recent years.
"One of the big reasons is the flexible schedule, especially for students who have illnesses who can't be in a traditional school," Hayes said.
They also have students who compete in nationally competitive sports, some students who may have experienced bullying in their classes or others who didn't care for the district they live in. Hayes said:
"It's great that there are options to get a good education, because every student is different."